Chickenpox is caused by the varicella zoster virus and is one of the most common childhood rashes. The virus is endemic to the human population and outbreaks of the disease occur regularly, though they tend to peak in winter and early spring. The disease is highly communicable and spreads through direct contact as well as through the air via coughing and sneezing.
An exposed child will take between ten and twenty one days after initial contact to develop the disease, but they will be contagious as early as five to six days before the rash develops. They will continue to be contagious for five to six more days, until all their blisters have developed scabs. This accounts for the fact that the disease has a ninety percent infection rate.
Prevention methods include basic hygiene practices and isolation of affected children. The virus is sensitive to harsh chemicals like bleach and so surfaces and objects exposed to the sick child should be cleaned before anyone else uses them.
Every disease has its own set of complications and concerns for you and your doctor to worry about. In the case of the chickenpox, most of the worst of these are reserved for rare cases that occur in immune suppressed populations, pregnant women, and adult males.
In otherwise healthy children, the complications to worry about are related to the actual sores and blisters the virus causes. If they are not kept clean and free of irritation, secondary bacterial infection of the skin becomes a concern. This can lead to impetigo, cellulitis, and erysipelas.
In addition, fever is always an important consideration where young children are concerned. The chickenpox is a relatively mild disease for most children, but it can and does cause fever. Parents should be prepared to watch this symptom carefully to make sure that it does not spike unexpectedly into the danger zone.
Cool baths and child safe medications can help to keep a child’s temperature within a safe range.
Finally, once you have had the chickenpox it will stay with you forever. The good news is that this provides you with lifelong immunity to the disease. The bad news is that if your immune system becomes suppressed during your lifetime, you may be subject to a new outbreak of the virus. This causes shingles, a painful condition that tends to affect older members of the population.
Most of the time, chickenpox is considered a childhood disease. It strikes most of us sometime between the ages of four and ten. Some ten percent of all children make it adulthood never having had the disease however. Those children do not develop immunity to the virus and are in danger whenever a new outbreak of this always-prevalent disease occurs. For children, chickenpox is a simple, if uncomfortable, disease.
Adults who develop the disease, most especially adult men and pregnant women, face a much more serious ailment. Morbidity and mortality is increased due to risks of secondary infections like pneumonia, hepatitis, and encephalitis, among others.